The Government is not doing enough to solve the shortage of health visitors, who are not included in the target for 50,000 more nurses, a leading health visitor has said.
Alison Morton, executive director of Institute of Health Visiting (iHV), told Nursing in Practice ‘the call for more health visitors continues to fall on deaf ears’ but warned ‘ignoring the [issue] will not make it go away’ after modelling last year suggested a shortfall of 5,000 health visitors.
This come after Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney asked health minister Edward Argar why health visitors and midwives were not included in the Government’s target for 50,000 more nurses.
In response, Mr Argar said ‘many of the actions’ from the delivery of the target will also apply to other professions, such as the £5,000 grant for living costs for student nurses. There is ‘no single source of data’ for health visitors, he added, which makes numbers hard to track.
But Ms Morton countered: ‘It was good to see the minister acknowledging that we have a problem with data collection on health visiting workforce numbers. Yet, the well-worn policy default response of ‘we need to measure it better’ is avoiding the more pressing workforce issue.
‘Let’s be clear, not having ‘good enough data’ is a smokescreen and does not justify delaying a plan to address the estimated shortfall of 5,000 health visitors now.’
Ms Morton pointed out the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for families, who are ‘facing the brunt of policy decisions which have failed to take this matter seriously for many years’.
She continued: ‘Early intervention can make a big difference, yet despite health visitors’ best efforts there are not enough health visitors to ensure that all families get the support that they need. Not addressing this now is having a catastrophic impact on some families and is a false economy storing up problems for the future.’
This comes after the Government said mandated health visiting reviews should be carried out face-to-face amid concerns about virtual services not reaching the most vulnerable children.
In December last year, the iHV’s annual report, The State of Health Visiting, found health visitors witnessed increasing safeguarding, behavioural and language issues in 2021, but worried they could not do enough to reach vulnerable families.